Digest>Archives> February 1996

First American Flag to be Hoisted at Boston Light

By Timothy Harrison


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That's what the headline of the Boston Globe said in its June 27, 1917 edition. When Doug Bingham, who was researching lighthouses came across this old newspaper story he was shocked. How could it be that America's first light station, that was established in 1716, not receive an American flag until 1917!?

The newspaper article went on to say, "For the first time in 200 years the Stars and Stripes were hoisted at Boston Light in the presence of a delegation of Chamber of Commerce officials, representatives of the government and prominent businessmen."

"After the flag was raised by C.H. Jennings, Keeper of the Light and his assistant, Arthur Small, there was much applause and cheering . . . The lighthouse tender Mayflower was placed at the disposal of the party . . ."

What is really amazing, is why there was never an American flag flying there in the past. It all started when Charles F. Weed, then president of the Boston Chamber of Commerce, took some dignitaries out to Boston Light for a tour. He noticed there was no United States flag flying and inquired as to the reason. He was told that there was simply no money in the appropriations for the purchase of American flags at lighthouses.

Mr. Weed was shocked. On the boat trip back to the mainland he discussed with the others the fact that an American flag should be flown from the first point of land that visitors to our shores see. He asked for donations and raised $50.00 on the boat.

William C. Brewer, chairman of the Chamber's committee on maritime affairs, formerly presented the flag to the Government and Ralph Goodard, District Inspector for the Lighthouse Service accepted the flag.

A letter from William C. Redfield Secretary of Commerce was read at the 1917 ceremony, "I must not let this occasion pass without expressing both for the Department of Commerce and for the officers and men in the Lighthouse Service in particular our appreciation of your gift. It is not only a generous act, which you have done, would that other cities might follow your fine example. From the historical as well as from the human side you are taking one of the steps that help pointing not only to a fine past, but to a fruitful future."

It would appear from this story and the statements made that on June 26, 1917 was the first time an American flag had flown at a lighthouse, at least officially. I have seen old photographs of other lighthouse with United States flags flying at them. However, if there were no funds allocated for flags at lighthouses, perhaps other flags were also donated. What the real answer is, I don't know.

Doug Bingham then suggested that the ceremony should be re-enacted and thought that perhaps the New England Lighthouse Foundation could handle it. I suggested a flag that had been flown over the White House and contacted U.S. Senator William Cohen from Maine, who in turn secured a flag that had flown over the White House.

On the day that the ceremony was to take place, inclement weather stopped the Coast Guard vessel from making the trip to the light, however, Doug Bingham along with a host of real lighthouse people was able to present the flag to the current Keeper at ceremonies at Point Allerton Coast Guard Station.

A United States flag, this one from the White House, continues to fly at Boston Light thanks in part to an event that took place 78 years ago.

This story appeared in the February 1996 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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